Not long ago, a 78-year-old man was put on trial for being intimate with his same-aged wife. The problem was his wife suffered from dementia, so there was a question of whether or not she could consent to sexual contact with him. Unfortunately, the nature of the disease means this question doesn't have a straight answer, and this can lead to disastrous outcomes such as being charged with sexual assault. Here are a few things you can do to manage sexual consent issues with a partner who is suffering from cognitive impairment.
Learn About Disease Progression
The main question surrounding sexual consent and cognitive dysfunction is when does a person lose the capacity for agency? One issue that people suffering from cognitive disorders run into is some friends and family members may feel that being diagnosed with a mental disease like Alzheimer's immediately equates the end of the person's ability to make decisions for his or herself.
This is not the case at all. Alzheimer's and similar mental conditions exist on a spectrum with mild impairment and total disability on opposite ends and wavy line weaving in and out of both in the middle. At any one point, the person's state of mind may fluctuate between lucidity or complete impairment depending on the day, the medication consumed, and a host of other factors.
Therefore, it's essential you learn as much about the disease affecting your partner as possible. This knowledge can help you recognize when your loved one has crossed the point where he or she is capable of giving consent to sexual or intimate activity. It can also help you better understand how the disease can affect the person's sexual expression. For instance, some people with dementia lose interest in sex and others become hypersexual. Knowing this, you can make appropriate adjustments to how you and your partner express intimacy.
Learn Your Partner's New Love Language
As the disease progresses, people with dementia and other diseases that cause cognitive impairment often begin losing the ability to communicate clearly and may develop alternative methods of corresponding with others. This can cause a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to reading signals of interest in intimacy.
Take time to learn your partner's new love language. This may also involve redefining what intimacy means for the two of you. For example, your loved one may not be interested in having sex but would prefer to cuddle or engage in other forms of intimacy. Additionally, his or her love language may change over time as the disease advances, so be prepared to make adjustments as necessary.
Talk to Friends and Family Members
Having people outside your relationship question your sex life with your partner may feel like an invasion of privacy. However, most of the time these people want to ensure your loved one is not being abused. In the case where the 78-year-old man was charged with third-degree sexual assault of his wife, it was the woman's children from a previous marriage who raised concerns about consent to authorities.
Therefore, speaking frankly with people close to you and your partner can help alleviate some of the concern they may have about the nature of your relationship. This, in turn, can reduce the risk of misunderstandings developing that may lead to having your partner removed from your care or you being hit with criminal charges.
Get a Professional Evaluation
If you reach a point to where you're not certain your partner is capable of giving consent, it's best to have his or her condition evaluated by a mental health professional or medical doctor. In addition to ensuring you continue to act in the best interests of your partner and protecting yourself from accusations of abuse, having your loved one evaluated can help you come to terms with your partner's condition.
For more information about the possible criminal consequences involved with consent and cognitive impairment, contact a criminal defense lawyer for assistance and more info.